Bringin' the Noise: The Natural

Brad Evans
Yahoo! Sports

He may not possess the economic and political genius of Founding Father Alexander.

Nor does he have the guts to fend off intelligent cybernetic killing machines like Linda.

And he definitely doesn't have the perpetual orange glow of George.

But what this Hamilton lacks in certain areas he makes up for in a category fantasy followers are in an endless search for, value.

By now, you've heard Josh Hamilton's redemption story an uncountable number of times.

The first pick in the 1999 draft, Hamilton was a can't miss, sure-fired future superstar who was on the fast-track to perennial All-Star appearances and 30 HR, 100 RBI seasons.

Mentally imprisoned by drug addiction until he was scared straight in October 2005, Hamilton, who hadn't played organized baseball since July 10, 2002, suited up in 15 minor league games last year before winding an improbable course to the Queen City.

The Reds invited Hamilton to spring training where, in eerily similar fashion as fictional icon Roy Hobbs, he wowed scouts and commentators with colossal moon-shots, earning their admiration as the preseason's best hitter.

Now, miraculously tied for third in the National League in home runs in nearly 30 less at-bats than Carlos Lee and Albert Pujols, Hamilton has finally tapped into his limitless potential – quite remarkable for a guy who had never logged an at-bat above Single-A until this year.

Reds manager Jerry Narron, known for his revolving door of lineups, will continue to find creative ways to get his talent-rich outfielder on the field everyday – Hamilton manned center and batted leadoff for the first time on Tuesday – possibly at the expense of Ryan Freel and/or Edwin Encarnacion. At this point, it's not unfathomable to project a .280 BA, 25-30 homers, 90-plus RBI end-season line, designating him a top-forty outfielder.

An owner of Hamilton in a couple of NL-only leagues, surely I'm not the only fan who's rooting for "The Natural" to take R.O.Y. honors home for reasons other than fantasy.

Here are this week's flames and lames:

Fantasy Flames
Player Team Pos BNR Y!%
Ryan Garko 1B 27 0.72
'07 Stats: .289 BA, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, 9:2 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: Andy Marte's placement on the 15-day DL is the "magic bean" Garko needed to climb up the fantasy beanstalk. Garko is a superb waiver wire addition who is 4-for-13 with a homer and four RBIs since Marte's shelving. Well-protected in the fifth spot behind Victor Martinez and with Travis Hafner punishing the baseball, Garko will get plenty of favorable pitches in the short-term. Armed with a quick, short swing and gap power, if he flourishes with Marte out, it will be difficult for manager Eric Wedge to keep him on the bench. Available in 99.3 percent of Y! leagues, Garko will be an above-average source of BA, RBI and R for at least the next couple of weeks.
Kelly Johnson 2B, OF 16 34.5
'07 Stats: .294 BA, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 18 R, 2 SB, 11:17 K:B
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: With five multi-hit games in his past six, Braves fans might as well call Johnson "Machine Gun" Kelly. An eleventh-hour selection in most drafts, Johnson proves once again how uncharacteristically deep second is this year. Sizzling with five multi-hit performances and seven RBI since April 17, Johnson has blossomed as the Braves leadoff man. Only 25, the gritty infielder tallied a respectable .280 BA in over 1,900 minor league at-bats and boasts 20-25 homer power with low-double-digit wheels. In power terms, he's the Ty Wigginton of the NL. Ballpark projection: .278 BA, 105 R, 20 HR, 75 RBI, 11 SB.
Jose Cruz Jr. OF 78 1.5
'07 Stats: .326 BA, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 13 R, 1 SB, 10:7 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Purchased for a buck by yours truly in an NL-only expert league, this classy San Diego outfielder has become my irresistible Veronica Corningstone. Distancing himself from platoon compadre Terrmel Sledge, the once highly-touted speed/power combo Cruz has hit safely in seven of his past nine with four multi-hit games. Cruz has always flashed the leather and with a patient 15 BB% he might cement his role as the everyday LF and leadoff man if Sledge continues to flirt with Mr. Mendoza. Expect his BA to slowly dwindle to .270 by June, but, at 33, he still carries a 20 HR stick and has 10-15 SB potential. Leave him on the wire in 12-team mixed leagues, but snatch him up in NL-only and deep mixed formats.
Bartolo Colon SP 67 90.2
'07 Stats: W, 7 IP, 1 ER, 7 H, 1:0 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Time to invest in Hostess stock, the blue whale of fantasy baseball is back – hungrier and more disgustingly obese than ever. In his first start in over nine months, Colon impressively threw 55 of his 77 pitches for strikes versus Seattle, allowed one earned, walked none and struck out one in seven innings. Colon admitted afterward that his days of "throwing 99 and 100 mph are probably not there anymore," evident by his pedestrian 88-90 mph velocity. No longer a power pitcher, he'll have to rely on his filthy buffet of off-speed pitches to get outs. As long as Colon views opposing batters with canned hams for heads he'll deliver back-of-the-rotation numbers in 12-team leagues. Crystal ball says: 11 W, 135 IP, 4.10 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 90 K.
James Shields SP 61 1.1
'07 Stats: 1-0, 28 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 28:6 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: On a team that has really never had a fashionable fantasy SP outside of Scott Kazmir – yes, including even '98 All-Star Rolando Arrojo – Shields might be more en vogue than Joe Maddon's Kurt Rambis-inspired spectacles. His eye-popping 12 Ks against Cleveland on April 22 exposed this buried treasure. Without an overpowering fastball (tops out at 91 mph), Shields' money pitch is a deceptive change that fades on hitters. His slurve, curve and two breaking pitches are also effective, but not outstanding. With an awesome 28:6 K:BB in 28 IP and three QS in his first four, his ERA should hover near 4.00 with exceptional strikeout and WHIP totals. Essentially, he's John Patterson circa 2005 – a middle-of-the-rotation fantasy starter in deeper leagues who'll be lucky to win 11 games.
Fantasy Lames
Player Team Pos BNR Y!%
Mark Teixeira 1B 7 99.9
'07 Stats: .224 BA, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 9 R, 16:12 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Teixeira has contributed less to my fantasy team than Anna Nicole Smith did to civilization. Along with the other member of my despicable Y! Friends and Family League duo, Paul Konerko, Big Tex has slumped horribly. Yet to homer, his start looks horrendous on the surface, but the peripheries indicate a rebound is imminent. Teixeira's walks total is up and his BABIP remains consistent to his career averages. More than likely, his slow start can be attributed to inadequate protection provided by Michael Young and his .165 BA. Once Young heats up, Teixeira's bombs will follow. Recall, he cooled early last year and ended up with 33 homers and 110 RBIs. At 27, he's in his power prime and has sights set on a lucrative contract extension after this season. Offer an impatient owner a bag of Ruffles – I still think he'll launch around 40 homers.
Gary Sheffield OF, 1B 16 97.8
'07 Stats: .149, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 14 R, 2 SB, 16:15 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: Attention Big Noise bargain shoppers! Now on clearance in the adult diaper aisle: Gary Sheffield. A sorrowful 10-for-67, Sheff has done backstrokes in the fantasy latrine, but, as Ivan Rodriguez recently put it best, "Don't worry about it. The man's going to hit." A chiseled 38 years young, Sheffield still possesses lightning-quick hands and 30-homer thunder. His eagle eye – he leads the Tigers with 15 walks in 67 at-bats – and tireless work ethic will lead him back to the outfield forefront once he resolves some timing issues. With four hits since April 23, Sheffield may already be on the prowl. If I owned Eric Byrnes, I'd make a one-for-one offer. Expect: .300 BA, 30 HR, 110 RBI, 100 R, 8 SB.
Josh Barfield 2B 14 73.8
'07 Stats: .123 BA, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 4 R, 1 SB, 11:2 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: Not even a Pedro Serrano voodoo chicken sacrifice could revive Barfield's bat. Embroiled in a bitter 7-for-57 slide, Barfield's flyball totals have increased while his line drive percentage has dipped by nearly eight percent from '06 – a clear indication he's pull-happy. Eric Wedge believes Barfield is trying to "get acclimated to a new team and league" and is in no danger of losing his job. Still a strong candidate to compile 15 HR and 20 SB, his RBI numbers will suffer batting in the bottom-third of the order. Don't believe in the sophomore slump. He'll be a borderline top-12 two-bagger come September.
Mike Cameron OF 38 70.0
'07 Stats: .203 BA, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 7 R, 1 SB, 23:8 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: Marooned on 0-fer island, Cameron has an appalling 15:2 K:BB mark over his past 10 games and has tangoed with the Mendoza Line in his first 79 at-bats. Manager Bud Black has toggled Cameron between the three and five spots in the hopes of creating a spark, but to no avail. The molasses start by the 34-year-old CF is typical – he's a career .241 hitter in April. In a contract year, he should reverse his fortunes soon, especially if Black continues to hit him fifth behind searing Adrian Gonzalez. After a two-for-three effort on April 21, teammate Marcus Giles commented that "Cam's back," indicating a breakout could be on the horizon. If you're sound in BA try and acquire Cameron's services at a discount. Remember, he was only one of five 20-20 outfielders last season.
Scott Olsen SP 52 66.9
'07 Stats: 2-1, 18 IP, 7.50 ERA, 2.06 WHIP, 15:10 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: This Olsen's fantasy value has plummeted faster than the movie careers of the emaciated twins with the same last name. A deplorable 10:15 K:BB in 18 IP has murdered Olsen's ERA and WHIP totals, which has encouraged over 1,100 Y! users to drop him like a bad habit. When on, the 23-year-old's lethal mid-90s fastball and nasty slider labels him a high-K lefty in similar stature as Rich Hill and Cole Hamels. Once he refines his command, the talented 87 strikeout sub-4.00 ERA No. 3 starter we saw after the All-Star break in '06 will resurface. Wait it out.

We've all seen these seemingly ambiguous statements on exams and quizzes since elementary school, now the classic test teaser gets a fantasy makeover. Each week, I'll tackle pressing diamond topics with a direct, succinct answer. Please, keep your eyes on your own paper.

1. Now is the time to sell high on Ian Kinsler. - Mark, San Diego, CA

Answer: False. Advertised prominently by the Noise back in mid-March, Kinsler has been the Lone Star in a Texas lineup full of underachievers. Leading all second baseman in homers and second in RBI, Kinsler is the Grady Sizemore of middle infielders. Still hitting seventh versus RHP, if Michael Young and Teixiera continue their whiffing ways, Ron Washington has to move his top run producer up in the order, possibly cementing him permanently in the two spot. Even if that doesn't happen, Kinsler's prolific fantasy production will continue. Remember, he has 20-25 SB speed and he's finally started to run (2 SB in past five). Anticipate: .295 BA, 27 HR, 100 RBI, 95 R, 19 SB

2. Philip Hughes is this year's Jered Weaver. - Greg, Syracuse, NY

Answer: False. Before giddy Yankees fans baptize Hughes in Whitey Ford's divine waters, listen up. Generally, people who jump on the bandwagon of a young phenom fail to realize the importance of experience (i.e. Alex Gordon). Hughes' electric stuff (92-94 mph fastball, hard slider, plus curve) and effortless delivery is unquestioned, but, at a tender 20-years-old, the enormous pressures of pitching in New York could prove costly. Yes, he struck out 10 in six sensational innings in his last Triple-A start, but did you know he allowed five earned in 5.1 IP with one K on April 13? Long-term the kid will be phenomenal, but like other exuberant youngsters, inconsistency is the norm. Remember, Weaver benefited from a high-profiled college career and was three years older than Hughes in his debut. Given the Yanks dynamite offense, he's worth a top waiver priority in all formats, but keep expectations realistic. His season innings high is 116, and if he's gangbusters immediately, I'd take a profit in yearly leagues before the fallback. With 150 IP: 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 150 K.

Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Barry Bonds? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?

Brad, I understand your love affair with Ollie (oliver Perez), but all he will do is cause you extreme pain. We all make mistakes and I think it's time for you to let this one go. Signing him to a three-year contract was very stupid. He has always had control problems except for that one fluke year. Being a Met fan I have to root for the guy, but from a fantasy viewpoint he's one to put out to pasture.

Mike, New York, NY

Noise: For those Conan O'Brien fans, Perez is my evil puppy. When his walks are down, he's a cute, cuddly top-of-the-line starter. However, when wild, he soils my carpet with putrid WHIP totals. Prior to his last start against Atlanta, Perez worked three extensive bullpen sessions with pitching coach Rick Peterson to iron out a mechanical flaw in his leg delivery, and it did wonders (6 IP, 2 ER, 9 H, 9:0 K:BB). Because of the abundant run support he'll receive (9.92 R/9 in '07), if the Peterson magic endures and Perez cuts the plate with a scalpel, he'll easily exceed my projections (12 W, 4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 170 K).

Don't worry about those idiots who clearly haven't seen Rich Hill pitch this year, or the second half of last year. I agree with you 100 percent that Hill will be the most dominant lefty in the NL. True Cubs fans have drooled over Hill's amazing minor league numbers in past years and knew it was just a matter of time before he put it all together. As for his curveball, let's just say that Cubs fans haven't seen a pitch that beautiful since Kerry Wood's slurve in his 20 K game! Great column and go Cubs!

Bret, Gilberts, IL

I got a kick out of Matt from Boulder (last week's Notable Noise) ripping on you for your "Cubby bias" in being complimentary toward Hill, and then trying to establish himself as an expert because he's currently in first place in his league – it's a long season Matt. I agree with you that Hill looks like the real deal and jumped on him like a fat kid on a Twinkie in the bottom half of my own draft.

Matt, Denver, CO

Obviously these guys ripping on Hill are the ones who haven't seen him pitch. He's given up 1 ER in his first three starts. Add that with only four BBs and multiply it by the nastiest curve in the bigs and you have a kid that has quickly become the Cubs ace. Thanks for recognizing talent and being outspoken about it when others are too naive to look beyond Sportscenter for their opinions.

Mike, Elkhart, IN

I just love how you shot yourself in the foot with the comparison between Hamels and Hill. You're noted "indistinguishable difference" of 2.0 K/9 had me cracking up. Over the course of a 200 inning season that translates to 44 Ks. I've won the K category in a few roto leagues with a lesser amount of whiffs.

Paul, Wichita Falls, TX

Noise: Paul, if you only knew the number of slugs I have permanently embedded in my feet and steel-toed boots (Thanks A-Rod!) forever lodged in my ass. Strangely, you forgot to mention the near one-point disparity in ERA between the two that I discussed. Hamels may have more Ks, but Hill's ERA will wash out the advantage. BTW, my glowing remarks on Hill over the past couple of weeks lit a fire under Hamels – evident in his historic 15 strikeout complete game against the Reds. Now if I used that strategy on Carlos Zambrano maybe the little Jobu in his head would figure out how to throw strikes consistently.

Brad, whatever possessed you to buy Phil Collins tickets if you don't like his ballads? He's been crooning them as a solo artist for over 20 years. What did you expect, Peter, Mike, Tony and Steve (from Genesis) to join him on stage? Seriously, how torturous can a Phil Collins concert be? He assembled a great band to back him and is a highly entertaining musician with music that has spanned this writer's lifetime. Save yourself the embarrassment and keep your attempts at humor grounded.

Chris, Northport, NY

Noise: Thankfully, the tickets were free. If Collins would have played "In the Air Tonight" and wailed on the drums for two hours, I would have been satisfied. However, the lame "Tarzan" track – how on earth that song beat out South Park's "Blame Canada" for an Oscar is criminal – was about as rockin' as a Mike and the Mechanics show. Not even the enduring slumps of Konerko and Teixiera on my Friends and Family team compare to the torment I endured listening to sappy songs about a yodeling cartoon man in a loincloth.